Census in Canada

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A national census in Canada is conducted every five years by Statistics Canada. The census provides demographic and statistical data that is used to plan public services including health care, education, and transportation, determine federal transfer payments,[1] and determine the number of Members of Parliament for each province and territory. At a sub-national level, two provinces (Alberta and Saskatchewan) and two territories (Nunavut and Yukon) have legislation that allows local governments to conduct their own municipal censuses.[2]

In an article in the New York Times in August 2015, journalist Stephen Marche argued that by ending the mandatory long-form census in 2011, the federal government "stripped Canada of its capacity to gather information about itself" in the "age of information." Nearly 500 organizations in Canada protested the decision to replace the long form Census in 2011.[3] [4]

On November 5, 2015, during the first Liberal caucus meeting since forming a majority government, the party announced that it would reinstate the mandatory[5] long-form census,[6] starting in 2016.

There have been questions about religion in Canada in the national Census since 1871, in 1951 when the national census was switched from being collected every 10 years to every 5 years, questions about religion were still only asked every 10 years.[7][8] Religion questions were not included in the 2016 National Household Survey.[9]

It is notable that section 8 of the Constitution Act 1867 mandates that the census of the country must be done every 10 years on years ending in “1” (1871, 1881, 1891 etc...). However, the section has been interpreted to mean that a census cannot be beyond that ten year period but does not mandate that the census cannot be conducted more regularly, as it now is every five years.


The first census in what is now Canada took place in New France in 1666, under the direction of Intendant Jean Talon.[10] The census noted the age, sex, marital status and occupation of 3,215 inhabitants.[11]

French controlled Acadia also took their own census from 1671 to 1731.

The last census for New France was conducted in 1754 and resumed under the British Province of Quebec from 1765 to 1790.

The British colonies of British North America (north of the US) had their own census:

The first national census of the country Canada was taken in 1871, as required by section 8 of the British North America Act, 1867.[12] The constitution required a census to be taken in 1871 and every tenth year thereafter.[12] Parliament implemented the requirements of the constitution through the Census Act of May 12, 1870. All inhabitants of Canada were included, including aboriginals. While this was the first national census of Canada, only four provinces existed at the time: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Other areas of what later became part of Canada continued to be enumerated in their own separate censuses. The results of the 1871 census, in both English and French, were reported in a five volume set.

In 1881, the governing legislation was amended to require census takers to take an oath of secrecy.[12] By this time, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, and British Columbia were part of Canada and included in the national census, as was the Northwest Territories.

A special census was conducted in 1906 after Alberta and Saskatchewan were delineated from the North-West Territories and became provinces. These special censuses continued every 10 years until 1956, at which time all of Canada was included. Since that time, a census has been conducted in Canada every five years.

In 1912, the federal government transferred responsibility for conducting the census from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Trade and Commerce.[12] In 1918, the government established the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, which was renamed Statistics Canada in 1971 and continues to be responsible for the census.[12]

With Newfoundland's entry into Canada in 1949, that province (including Labrador) has been included in the Canadian census since 1951.[12]

Accessibility, disclosure, and publication[edit]

All censuses prior to 1906 were publicly available at the National Archives of Canada as the legislation at the time did not include any confidentiality provisions. In general, a census was released to the National Archives 92 years after the date of collection.

In 1998, the National Archivist requested that the 1906 census records be turned over to the National Archives. However, the Chief Statistician of Canada refused the request, citing the instructions given to enumerators at the time data had been collected and a promise made by legislators that the confidentiality of the census was "perpetual".

As a result, Industry Minister John Manley appointed the "Expert Panel on Access to Historical Census Records" in November 1999 to study the issue. The panel issued a report on December 15, 2000, concluding that there was no evidence that legislators of the day intended that census records were to remain perpetually confidential. The panel recommended allowing public access to all census records 92 years after collection. However, by the time the report had been issued, Brian Tobin had become Industry Minister and chose not to follow the recommendations. Instead, he stated the issue would be considered as part of the ongoing review of privacy legislation. The matter did not proceed to a resolution until after several further government inquiries and the commencement of court proceedings. In the meantime, the 92-year period for the release of the 1911 census records elapsed, which was met by a further refusal by Statistics Canada to release the records.[citation needed]

After years of study by expert panels, discussion, debate (privacy vs the interests of genealogists and historians), and two earlier legislative attempts, Bill S-18 An Act to Amend the Statistics Act received Royal Assent on June 18, 2005.[13] The Act creates section 18.1 of the Statistics Act which releases personal census records for censuses taken between 1911 and 2001, inclusive, 92 years after each census. In addition, starting with the 2006 Census, Canadians can consent to the public release of their personal census information after 92 years. Census returns are in the custody of Statistics Canada and the records are closed until 92 years after the taking of a census, when those records may be opened for public use and transferred to Library and Archives Canada subject to individual consent where applicable.[14]


Highlights of the census in Canada include:[12]

  • 1666 – colony's first census
  • 1825 – Lower Canada, for each household, includes name of head and number of members
  • 1831 – Lower Canada, for each household, includes name of head and number of members
  • 1842 – Lower Canada, for each household, includes name of head and number of members
  • 1852 – Originally scheduled for 1851, this census was for the Province of Canada, comprising Canada East and Canada West to attempt to record every member of every household by name
  • 1861 – last census for the Province of Canada
  • 1871 – first census of the Canadian federation
  • 1881
  • 1891 – census advertising through newspapers and from pulpits
  • 1901 – census adds questions on religion, birthplace, colour, citizenship, and period of immigration
  • 1906 – the first special census of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba entitled the Census of Population and Agriculture of the Northwest Provinces
  • 1911 – last census to ask questions on "infirmities"
  • 1916 – the second special census of the three prairie provinces, renamed from its 1906 title to the Census of Prairie Provinces[15]
  • 1921 – census adds questions on birthplaces of both parents[16]
  • 1926 – the third special census of the three prairie provinces[17]
  • 1931 – census adds questions to assess unemployment
  • 1936 – the fourth special census of the three prairie provinces[17]
  • 1941 – questions on fertility
  • 1946 – the fifth special census of the three prairie provinces[17]
  • 1951 – first census covering all 10 provinces and (then) 2 territories
  • 1956 – first mid-decade mini census; the Census of Agriculture and Census of Population would be taken together every 5 years
  • 1961 – census adds question on level of education
  • 1966 – last census to use only interviews
  • 1971 – self-enumeration and long/short forms introduced
  • 1976 – last mini-census; "head" of family changed for husband-wife families to refer to either "husband" or "wife"
  • 1981 – reference "head" was dropped altogether
  • 1986 – first full mid-decade census
  • 1991 – question on common-law relationship
  • 1996 – census questions translated into 49 non-official languages
  • 2001 – collection of data on same sex common-law couples
  • 2006 – online questionnaire
  • 2011 – the short form version of the census was mandatory while the long form was voluntary [3]
  • 2016 – long-form census once again mandatory and homeless individuals are included in census [5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Census and..." Archived from the original on 2006-04-28. Retrieved 2006-05-19.
  2. ^ "Municipal Census Policy (City Council Agenda Item No. E.1.l)" (DOC). City of Edmonton. May 31, 2006. Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Information for survey participants". Statistics Canada. Statistics Canada. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  4. ^ Stephen Marche (14 August 2015). "The Closing of the Canadian Mind". New York Times. Sunday Review. Toronto. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  5. ^ a b https://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/the-long-form-census-is-back-in-time-for-2016
  6. ^ http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/liberals-can-restore-long-form-census-for-2016-if-they-act-quickly-observers-say-1.3291284
  7. ^ "Canadian Census". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 6, 2019.
  8. ^ Government of Canada, Statistics Canada (2015-04-13). "Statement on the content of the 2016 Census of Population and the National Household Survey". www.statcan.gc.ca. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  9. ^ "Statement on the content of the 2016 Census of Population and the National Household Survey". www.statcan.gc.ca. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  10. ^ "North America's First Census". Statistics Canada. 2009. Retrieved 2010-06-23.
  11. ^ "Tables of census data collected in 1665 and 1666 by Jean Talon". Statistics Canada. 2009. Retrieved 2010-06-23.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g "History of the Census of Canada". Statistics Canada. 2006. Retrieved 2010-06-22.
  13. ^ "BILL S-18: AN ACT TO AMEND THE STATISTICS ACT". Parliament of Canada. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  14. ^ "Statistics Act". Government of Canada. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 18. (1) The information contained in the returns of each census of population taken between 1910 and 2005 is no longer subject to sections 17 and 18 ninety-two years after the census is taken. (3) When sections 17 and 18 cease to apply to information referred to in subsection (1) or (2), the information shall be placed under the care and control of the Library and Archives of Canada.
  15. ^ "Census of Prairie Provinces. Population and Agriculture. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta. 1916 (1918)". Statistics Canada. 1918. Retrieved 2010-11-21.
  16. ^ Worton, David Albert (1998). The Dominion Bureau of Statistics: a history of Canada's Central Statistical Office and its antecedents, 1841-1972. Montreal [Que.]: McGill-Queen's University Press. pp. 89–91. ISBN 0773516603.
  17. ^ a b c "Census of Canada – Aggregate Statistics". University of Toronto. Archived from the original on 2011-04-29. Retrieved 2010-11-21.

External links[edit]